Chapter no 30

East of Eden

Even as in Biblical times, there were miracles on the earth in those days. One week after the lesson a Ford bumped up the main street of King City and pulled to a shuddering stop in front of the post office. Adam sat at the wheel with Lee beside him and the two boys straight and grand in the back seat.

Adam looked down at

the floorboards, and all four chanted in unison, “Brake on

—advance gas—switch off.” The little engine roared and then stopped. Adam sat back for a moment, limp but proud, before he got out.

The postmaster looked

out between the bars of his golden grill. “I see you’ve got

one of the damn things,” he said.

“Have to keep up with the times,” said Adam. “I predict there’ll come a

time when you can’t find a horse, Mr. Trask.” “Maybe so.”

“They’ll change the face

of the countryside. They get their clatter into everything,” the postmaster went on. “We even feel it here. Man used to come for his mail once a week. Now he comes every day, sometimes twice a day.

He just can’t wait for his damn

catalogue. Running around.



around.” He was so violent in his dislike that Adam knew he hadn’t bought a Ford yet. It was a kind of jealousy coming out. “I wouldn’t have one around,” the postmaster said, and this meant that his wife was at him to buy one. It was the women who put the pressure on. Social status was involved.

The postmaster angrily shuffled through the letters from the T box and tossed out a long envelope. “Well, I’ll see you in the hospital,” he said viciously.

Adam smiled at him and took his letter and walked out.

A man who gets few

letters does not open one lightly. He hefts it for weight, reads the name of the sender

on the envelope and the address,

looks at the

handwriting, and studies the postmark and the date. Adam was out of the post office and across the sidewalk to his Ford before he had done all of these things. The left-hand corner of the envelope had printed on it, Bellows and Harvey, Attorneys at Law, and their address was the town in Connecticut from which Adam had come.

He said in a pleasant

tone, “Why, I know Bellows and Harvey, know them well. I wonder what they want?”

He looked closely at the envelope. “I wonder how they got my address?” He turned the envelope over and looked at the back. Lee watched him, smiling.

“Maybe the

questions are answered in the letter.”

“I guess so,” Adam said. Once having decided to open the letter, he took out his pocketknife, opened the big blade, and inspected the envelope for a point of ingress, found none, held the letter up to the sun to make sure not to cut the message, tapped the letter to one end of the envelope, and cut off the other end. He blew in the end

and extracted the letter with two fingers. He read the letter very slowly.

“Mr. Adam Trask, King City, California, Dear Sir,” it

began testily, “For the last six months we have exhausted every means of locating you.

We have

advertised in

newspapers all over the country without success. It was only when your letter to your brother was turned over to us by the local postmaster that we were able to ascertain your whereabouts.” Adam could feel their impatience with him. The next paragraph began a complete change of

mood. “It is our sad duty to inform you that your brother Charles Trask is deceased. He died of a lung ailment October 12 after an illness of two weeks, and his body rests in the Odd Fellows cemetery. No stone marks his grave. We presume you will want to undertake this sorrowful duty yourself.”

Adam drew a deep full breath and held it while he read the paragraph again. He breathed out slowly to keep the release from being a sigh.

“My brother Charles is dead,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” said Lee. Cal said, “Is he our uncle?”

“He was your Uncle

Charles,” said Adam. “Mine too?” Aron asked. “Yours too.”

“I didn’t know we had

him,” Aron said. “Maybe we can put some flowers on his grave. Abra would help us.

She likes to.”

“It’s a long way off— clear across the country.”

Aron said excitedly, “I know! When we take flowers

to our mother we’ll take some to our Uncle Charles.” And he said a little sadly, “I wish’t I knew I had him before he was dead.” He felt that he was growing rich in dead relatives. “Was he nice?” Aron asked.

“Very nice,” said Adam.

“He was my only brother, just

like Cal is your only brother.” “Were you twins too?” “No—not twins.”

Cal asked, “Was he rich?”

“Of course not,” said

Adam. “Where’d you get that idea?”

“Well, if he was rich

we’d get it, wouldn’t we?” Adam said sternly, “At a time of death it isn’t a nice thing to talk about money. We’re sad because he died.” “How can I be sad?”

said Cal. “I never even saw him.”

Lee covered his mouth with his hand to conceal his

smile. Adam looked back at the letter, and again it changed

mood with its


“As attorneys for the deceased it is our pleasant duty to inform you that your brother through industry and judgment

amassed a

considerable fortune, which in land, securities, and cash is well in excess of one hundred thousand dollars. His will, which was drawn and signed in this office, is in our hands and will be sent to you on your request. By its terms it leaves all money, property, and securities to be divided equally between you and your

wife. In the event that your wife is deceased, the total goes to you. The will also stipulates that if you are deceased, all property goes to your wife. We judge from your letter that you are still in the land of the living and we wish

to offer our



obedient servants, Bellows and Harvey, by George B. Harvey.” And at the bottom of the page was scrawled, “Dear Adam: Forget not thy servants in the days of thy prosperity.



spent a dime. He pinched a dollar

until the eagle

screamed. I hope you and your wife will get some pleasure from the money. Is there an opening out there for a good lawyer? I mean myself. Your old friend, Geo. Harvey.”

Adam looked over the

edge of the letter at the boys and at Lee. All three were waiting for him to continue. Adam’s mouth shut to a line. He folded the letter, put it in its envelope, and placed the envelope carefully in his inside pocket.

“Any complications?” Lee asked. “No.”

“I just thought you looked concerned.” “I’m not. I’m sad about my brother.” Adam was

trying to arrange the letter’s information in his mind, and it was as restless as a setting hen scrounging into the nest. He felt that he would have to be alone to absorb it. He climbed into the car and looked

blankly at

the mechanism.

He couldn’t

remember a single procedure. Lee asked, “Want some help?”

“Funny!” said Adam. “I can’t remember where to start.”

Lee and the boys began softly, “Spark up—gas down, switch over to Bat.”

“Oh, yes. Of course, of course.” And while the loud bee hummed in the coil box Adam cranked the Ford and ran to advance the spark and throw the switch to Mag.

They were driving

slowly up the lumpy road of the home draw under the oak trees when Lee said, “We forgot to get meat.”

“Did we? I guess we did. Well,

can’t we have

something else?” “How about bacon and eggs?”

“That’s fine.

That’s good.”

“You’ll want to mail

your answer tomorrow,” said Lee. “You can buy meat then.”

“I guess so,” said Adam.

While dinner was

preparing Adam sat staring into space. He knew he would

have to have help from Lee, if only the help of a listener to clear his own thinking.

Cal had led his brother outside and conducted him to the wagon shed where the tall Ford rested. Cal opened the door and sat behind the wheel. “Come on, get in!” he said.

Aron protested, “Father told us to stay out of it.” “He won’t ever know.

Get in!”

Aron climbed in timidly and eased back in the seat.

Cal turned the wheel from side to side. “Honk, honk,” he said, and then, “Know what I think? I think Uncle Charles was rich.”

“He was not.”

“I bet you anything he was.”

“You think our father’d tell a lie.”

“I won’t say that. I just

bet he was rich.” They were silent for a while. Cal steered wildly

around imaginary

curves. He said, “I bet you I can find out.”

“How do you mean?” “What you got to bet?” “Nothing,” said Aron.

“How about your deer’s-leg whistle? I bet you this-here taw against that deer’s-leg whistle that we get sent to

bed right after supper. Is it a bet?”

“I guess so,” Aron said vaguely. “I don’t see why.” Cal said, “Father will

want to talk to Lee. And I’m going to listen.”

“You won’t dare.” “You think I won’t.”

“ ‘Spose I was to tell.” Cal’s eyes turned cold and his face darkened. He

leaned so close that his voice dropped to a whisper. “You won’t tell. Because if you do

—I’ll tell who stole his knife.”

“Nobody stole his knife.

He’s got his knife. He opened the letter with it.”

Cal smiled bleakly. “I mean tomorrow,” he said.

And Aron saw what he meant and he knew he couldn’t tell. He couldn’t do anything about it. Cal was perfectly safe.

Cal saw the confusion

and helplessness on Aron’s face and felt his power, and it made him glad. He could outthink and outplan his brother. He was beginning to think he could do the same thing to his father. With Lee, Cal’s tricks did not work, for Lee’s bland mind moved effortlessly ahead of him and was always there waiting, understanding, and at the last moment cautioning quietly, “Don’t do it.” Cal had respect for Lee and a little fear of him. But Aron here, looking helplessly at him, was a lump of soft mud in his hands. Cal suddenly felt a deep love for his brother and an impulse to protect him in his weakness.

He put his arm around Aron. Aron did not flinch or respond. He drew back a little to see Cal’s face.

Cal said, “See any green grass growing out of my head?”

Aron said, “I don’t know why you go for to do it.” “How do you mean? Do what?”

“All the tricky, sneaky things,” said Aron. “What do you mean, sneaky?”

“Well, about the rabbit,

and sneaking here in the car. And you did something to Abra. I don’t know what, but it was you made her throw the box away.”


said Cal.

“Wouldn’t you like to know!” But he was uneasy.

Aron said slowly. “I wouldn’t want to know that. I’d like to know why you do it.

You’re always at

something. I just wonder why you do it. I wonder what’s it good for.”

A pain pierced Cal’s

heart. His planning suddenly seemed mean and dirty to him. He knew that his brother had found him out. And he felt a longing for Aron to love him. He felt lost and hungry and he didn’t know what to


Aron opened the door of the Ford and climbed down

and walked out of the wagon shed. For a few moments Cal twisted the steering wheel and tried to imagine he was racing down the road. But it wasn’t any good, and soon he followed Aron back toward the house.

When supper was finished and Lee had washed the dishes Adam said, “I think you boys had better go to bed. It’s been a big day.”

Aron looked quickly at Cal and slowly took his

deer’s-leg whistle out of his pocket.

Cal said, “I don’t want


Aron said, “It’s yours now.”

“Well, I don’t want it. I won’t have it.”

Aron laid the bone

whistle on the table. “It’ll be here for you,” he said.

Adam broke in, “Say,

what is this argument? I said you boys should go to bed.”

Cal put on his “little

boy” face. “Why?” he asked. “It’s too early to go to bed.” Adam said, “That wasn’t quite the truth I told you. I want to talk privately to Lee. And it’s getting dark so you can’t go outside, so I want you boys to go to bed—at least to your room. Do you understand?”

Both boys said, “Yes,

sir,” and they followed Lee down the hall to their bedroom at the back of the house. In their nightgowns they returned to say good night to their father.

Lee came back to the living room and closed the

door to the hall. He picked up the deer’s-leg whistle and inspected it and laid it down. “I wonder what went on there,” he said.

“How do you mean, Lee?”

“Well, some bet was

made before supper, and just after supper Aron lost the bet and paid off. What were we talking about?”

“All I can remember is

telling them to go to bed.” “Well, maybe it will come out later,” said Lee. “Seems to me you put

too much stock in the affairs of children. It probably didn’t mean anything.”

“Yes, it meant

something.” Then he said, “Mr. Trask, do you think the thoughts of people suddenly become important at a given age? Do you have sharper feelings or clearer thoughts now than when you were ten? Do you see as well, hear as well, taste as vitally?” “Maybe you’re right,”

said Adam.

“It’s one of the great

fallacies, it seems to me,” said Lee, “that time gives much of anything but years and sadness to a man.” “And memory.”

“Yes, memory. Without

that, time would be unarmed against us. What did you want to talk to me about?”

Adam took the letter

from his pocket and put it on the table. “I want you to read this, to read it carefully, and then—I want to talk about it.” Lee took out his half-glasses and put them on. He opened the letter under the lamp and read it.

Adam asked, “Well?” “Is there an opening here for a lawyer?” “How do you mean? Oh,

I see. Are you making a joke?”

“No, said Lee, “I was not making a joke. In my obscure

but courteous Oriental manner



indicating to you that I would prefer to know your opinion before I offered mine.”

“Are you speaking

sharply to me?”

“Yes, I am,” said Lee. “I’ll lay aside my Oriental

manner. I’m getting old and cantankerous. I am growing

impatient. Haven’t you heard of all Chinese servants that when they get old they remain loyal but they turn mean?”

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“They aren’t hurt. You

want to talk about this letter. Then talk, and I will know from your talk whether I can offer an honest opinion or whether it is better to reassure you in your own.”

“I don’t understand it,” said Adam helplessly. “Well, you knew your brother.

If you don’t

understand it, how can I, who

never saw him?”

Adam got up and opened the hall door and did not see the shadow that slipped behind it. He went to his room and returned and put a faded brown daguerreotype on the table in front of Lee.

“That is my brother Charles,” he said, and he went back to the hall door and closed it.

Lee studied the shiny

metal under the lamp, shifting the picture this way and that to overcome the highlights. “It’s a long time ago,” Adam said. “Before I went into the army.”

Lee leaned close to the picture. “It’s hard to make out. But from his expression I wouldn’t say your brother

had much humor.” “He hadn’t any,” said

Adam. “He never laughed.” “Well,

that wasn’t

exactly what I meant. When I read the terms of your brother’s will it struck me that he might have been a man with a particularly brutal sense of play. Did he like you?”

“I don’t know,” said

Adam. “Sometimes I thought he loved me. He tried to kill me once.”

Lee said, “Yes, that’s in

his face—both the love and the murder. And the two made a miser of him, and a miser is a frightened man

hiding in a fortress of money. Did he know your wife?” “Yes.”

“Did he love her?” “He hated her.”

Lee sighed. “It doesn’t

really matter. That’s not your problem, is it?”

“No. It isn’t.”

“Would you like to bring the problem out and look at it?”

“That’s what I want.” “Go ahead then.”

“I can’t seem to get my mind to work clearly.” “Would you like me to

lay out the cards for you? The uninvolved can sometimes do that.”

“That’s what I want.” “Very

well then.”

Suddenly Lee grunted and a look of astonishment came over his face. He held his round chin in his thin small hand. “Holy horns!” he said. “I didn’t think of that.” Adam stirred uneasily.

“I wish you’d get off the tack you’re sitting on,” he said irritably. “You make me feel like a column of figures on a blackboard.”

Lee took a pipe from his pocket, a long slender ebony stem with a little cuplike brass bowl. He filled the thimble bowl with tobacco so fine-cut it looked like hair, then lighted the pipe, took four long puffs, and let the

pipe go out.

“Is that opium?” Adam demanded.

“No,” said Lee. “It’s a cheap brand of Chinese tobacco, and it has an unpleasant taste.” “Why do you smoke it then?”

“I don’t know,” said

Lee. “I guess it reminds me of something—something


associate with clarity. Not very



eyelids half closed. “All right then—I’m going to try to pull out your thoughts like egg noodles and let them dry in the sun. The woman is still

your wife and she is still alive. Under the letter of the will she inherits something over fifty thousand dollars. That is a great deal of money. A sizable chunk of good or of evil could be done with it.

Would your brother, if he knew where she is and what she is doing, want her to have the money? Courts always try to follow the wishes of the testator.”

“My brother would not want that,” said Adam. And

then he remembered the girls upstairs in the tavern and Charles’ periodic visits. “Maybe you’ll have to

think for your brother,” said Lee. “What your wife is doing is neither good nor bad.

Saints can spring from any soil. Maybe with this money she would do some “fine thing. There’s no springboard to philanthropy like a bad conscience.”

Adam shivered. “She

told me what she would do if she had money. It was closer to murder than to charity.” “You don’t think she

should have the money then?”

“She said she would

destroy many reputable men in Salinas. She can do it too.” “I see,” said Lee. “I’m

glad I can take a detached view of this. The pants of

their reputations must have some thin places. Morally, then, you would be against giving her the money?” “Yes.”

“Well, consider this. She

has no name, no background. A whore springs full blown from the earth. She couldn’t very well claim the money, if she knew about it, without your help.”

“I guess that’s so. Yes, I

can see that she might not be able to claim it without my help.”

Lee took up the pipe and picked out the ash with a little brass pin and filled the bowl again. While he drew in the four slow puffs his heavy lids raised and he watched Adam.

“It’s a very delicate moral problem,” he said.

“With your permission I shall offer it for the consideration of my honorable relatives— using no names of course.

They will go over it as a boy goes over a dog for ticks. I’m sure they will get some interesting results.” He laid his pipe on the table. “But you don’t have any choice, do you?”

“What do you mean by that?”

Adam demanded.

“Well, do you? Do you know yourself so much less than I do?”

“I don’t know what to

do,” said Adam. “I’ll have to

give it a lot of thought.”

Lee said angrily, “I

guess I’ve been wasting my time. Are you lying to yourself or only to me?” “Don’t speak to me like that!” Adam said.

“Why not?



always disliked deception. Your course is drawn. What you will do is written— written

in every breath

you’ve ever taken. I’ll speak any way I want to. I’m crotchety. I feel sand under my




forward to the ugly smell of old books and the sweet smell of good thinking. Faced with two sets of morals, you’ll follow your training. What you call thinking won’t change it. The fact that your wife is a whore in Salinas won’t change a thing.”

Adam got to his feet. His face was angry. “You are insolent now that you’ve decided to go away,” he cried. “I tell you I haven’t made up my mind what to do about the money.”

Lee sighed deeply. He pushed his small body erect with his hands against his

knees. He walked wearily to the front door and opened it. He turned back and smiled at Adam. “Bull shit!” he said amiably, and he went out and closed the door behind him. 3

Cal crept quietly down the dark hall and edged into the room where he and his brother slept. He saw the outline of his brother’s head against the pillow in the double bed, but he could not see whether Aron slept. Very gently he eased himself in on his side and turned slowly and laced his fingers behind his head and stared at the myriads of tiny colored dots that make up darkness. The window shade bellied slowly

in and then the night wind fell and the worn shade flapped quietly against the window.


gray, quilted

melancholy descended on him. He wished with all his heart that Aron had not walked away from him out of the wagon shed. He wished with all his heart that he had not crouched listening at the hall door. He moved his lips in the darkness and made the words silently in his head and yet he could hear them. “Dear Lord,” he said,

“let me be like Aron. Don’t make me mean. I don’t want to be. If you will let everybody like me, why, I’ll

give you anything in the world, and if I haven’t got it, why, I’ll go for to get it. I don’t want to be mean. I don’t want to be lonely. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.” Slow warm tears were running down his cheeks. His muscles were tight and he fought against making any crying sound or sniffle.

Aron whispered from his pillow in the dark, “You’re cold. You’ve got a chill.” He stretched out his hand to Cal’s arm and felt the goose bumps there. He asked softly, “Did Uncle Charles have any money?”

“No,” said Cal. “Well, you were out

there long enough. What did

Father want to talk about?” Cal lay still, trying to control his breathing. “Don’t you want to tell me?” Aron asked. “I don’t care if you don’t tell me.” “I’ll



whispered. He turned on his side so that his back was toward his brother. “Father is going to send a wreath to our mother. A great big goddam wreath of carnations.”

Aron half sat up in bed

and asked excitedly, “He is? How’s he going to get it clear there?”

“On the train. Don’t talk so loud.”

Aron dropped back to a

whisper. “But how’s it going to keep fresh?”

“With ice,” said Cal. “They’re going to pack ice all around it.”

Aron asked, “Won’t it take a lot of ice?”

“A whole hell of a lot of ice,” said Cal. “Go to sleep now.”

Aron was silent, and

then he said, “I hope it gets there fresh and nice.”

“It will,” said Cal. And

in his mind he cried, “Don’t let me be mean.”

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